Few are Chosen
There’s an amazing thing which I can’t get out of my mind - it’s just like a tune which lodges in your head and doesn’t go away. The amazing thing is these keys: I go out to the church car park and press the switch and our car unlocks. The lights flash, the inside light comes on and we can drive away. Now ours seems to be the only car these keys unlock. I was hopeful that they might have worked on the Peugeot 406 I see out there from time to time, and certain other cars, but they don’t seem to. I go to a car park in town where there are more cars and only our car responds. And it’s the same with garage doors. I have to lift ours by hand, but when I am in Auckland and have the novelty of my son’s garage door opener in my pocket I walk down the street pressing it, and so far I haven’t been able to get another garage door to open. Even though I stand at the door and push nothing happens except our own car door, our own garage door. An amazing thing!
That thought has wrecked my sermon because I really wanted to preach a high-minded sermon urging you to better things but I was trapped in the power of the keys, or rather the inability of the keys I have to open a multitude of doors. When I press this switch why do so few doors open? And the same question haunted me when I read the gospel. When Jesus called people to be with him as friends and companions - why so few? We’d have thought the more the merrier. This year is election year and it will be a year to get people on your side. Numbers count. The more you have on your side, the more you can do. Jesus gathers up 12. Why just 12, why not 1000's and 1000's? Why not a multitude, a host, a throng? Why not a great hikoi to Jerusalem? Why so few? When Jesus pressed the switch that day in Galilee just four doors opened: Andrew and Peter, James and John - the first four of what was going to be the 12.
You will notice I’ve been careful with my language. Jesus called Peter and Andrew, James and John the first four of the 12. I didn’t call them disciples, for in fact there were many disciples. Disciples is a gospel term for ordinary Christians who follow Jesus; among the disciples were women and men like Martha and Mary, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, the mysterious disciple whom Jesus loved, all of them disciples. There were disciples, believers, learners all over the place. But still, I ask, why so few in the 12? Many are called, it seems, but few are chosen. And I didn’t call them apostles for there are more apostles than the 12 - Paul for example. An apostle is one sent out as an ambassador, an emissary. Strictly speaking it applies to those whom Jesus commissioned: go you into all the world and preach the gospel. But here we are still at the beginning. Jesus is getting the band together we know as the 12. But I still want to know why so few?
Some bright spark might hopefully tell me there had to be 12 because there were 12 tribes of Israel and what Jesus is doing is deliberately establishing the New Israel in contrast to the old and superseded Israel. It’s a nice try; good marks if you had that thought, it’s a start of theological thinking. Yet I’m not convinced. Jesus doesn’t seem to me to work like that. It seems more like an afterthought than a careful plan on Jesus’ part. I don’t hear Jesus saying, Let me find 12 good men and true each to represent a tribe. I think that what Jesus was after when he called the 12 were certain rare and special qualities which very few possess. Many are called but few are chosen. Jesus didn’t select those with great religious or theological understanding. He didn’t pick the successful or the ones who were good, sensitive, compassionate and caring. Somehow the ones he called knew he wanted them and they came to him just like the way our car doors unlock when I press the switch. They came without a CV in discipleship. And maybe there were only 12 in the whole of Palestine that had the qualities Jesus wanted.
You can sense what I’m after when you consider Sir Edmund Hillary. His qualities were rare; there were others who had the physical capacity and skill to climb Everest; there have been others with the large heart to do humanitarian work; there have been other prominent people who have kept the common touch, but to find all these together in one person is very rare. A humanitarian adventurer is exceptional. Out of all the people in New Zealand maybe there was only one like that. And, when you come to look at it through gospel eyes, Sir Edmund could have been one of the 12 had he been back in Palestine 2000 years ago. He was called, he followed that call to the end of his life, accepting mobility and change and hardship and struggle like Andrew or Peter or James or John. He had the qualities that Jesus was after when he called the Twelve.
But what were the rare and special qualities that Jesus looked for? It seems to me there were just two - and to describe them I use modern words, not New Testament ones. The first quality is involvement. Fishermen and a tax collector make up five of the 12, they are the kind of people that like to do things, get up close and personal. I think of a nephew of ours, Chris. Wherever he goes he rescues people from trouble and misfortune. He saved people in a car when it caught alight; I have a problem with the house falling down, and there’s a knock at the door, it will be Chris, come just in the nick of time. How or why it happens I have no idea, but it does. He was born to be involved; and the 12 are like that. While Jesus is talking they are going around the crowd making friends, finding boys with loaves and fish; Peter loves poking his nose into things, that’s why he is always with Jesus, he wants to be in at the finish for all those intriguing episodes in which Jesus does his work, up high on the mount of transfiguration, at the bedside when Jairus’ daughter begins her life again, asking what it feels like to walk on water, saying let’s have a go. That’s how I see the 12 - involved in life. They are not standers-back, observers, spectators. They are in there experiencing life to the full. And that’s why the gospel record is as full and as vivid as it is - it’s recollections from people who were excited to be there; they were involved.
The second quality of the 12 is that they were transformational people. They were people who enabled women and men like us to be better and do better; they excited the people of their churches. When they said, let’s do this, the congregation shouted, Amen! Hallelujah; they didn’t pull long faces or consult the treasurer. And not all transformational people are larger than life or exuberant; some are quiet, but they are just as effective in renewing and enlarging our lives. These transformational people don’t command or dictate, but they have a knack of drawing us in till we are part of the plan. The reign of heaven could just be another programme dreamed up by a bishop in an earnest moment and we would be right to treat it accordingly, but when it comes from a transformational Peter or Andrew or James or John and they say to us: You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light, then it’s worth taking seriously.
Perhaps there were only 12 in Palestine who had this combination of these rare and special qualities. And if Jesus were forming his group today there may not be many more - and it’s pretty certain that none of us would be among them. Modern church people find it extremely hard to be both involved and transformational. Few are chosen. But many are called. Though we are not to be numbered among the 12, we can be counted among the disciples. We can shed our tears over his feet; we can offer cold water to the 12 as they pass by, we can give them hospitality, we can follow the star, we can seek healing for the wounded and the troubled, we can place the body of Jesus in the tomb, and anoint it with spices. Those who are chosen leave home and family and follow and have no place to rest their head; those who are called disciples sleep in their beds at night and live and work in their communities. And we who are called to be disciples believe and pray and hope and love right where we are.